Why we’ve banned remote working

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With the latest lockdown meaning more people than ever are working from home, you might find it strange that here at thevaluecircle we’ve banned remote working in 2021. But bear with me. 

Of course we are adhering to the lockdown guidance and the team is not working in the office. But we’re not working remotely. In fact, we’re more connected than ever before. 

It was during a conversation with a non-exec director of a large NHS trust that I realised we all seem to have chosen the wrong badge for our new ways of working. The NED said that far from feeling distant from the Trust Board they sat on, the virtual ways of working had forced closer connections, more regular communication, and some real thought about how best to get the business of governance and leadership done at a distance. 

And that felt like the opposite of remote working. 

By calling it that, we’ve inadvertently suggested that by not working in the same physical space we are somehow more isolated from one another. 

Yet when you get it right, working from separate physical locations doesn’t have to mean you are distant. 

thevaluecircle has always had a remote model. When Tom Mytton joined us as partner last year we planned to work together fairly regularly. But with Tom in London and me in Yorkshire, plus a global pandemic to contend with, we only managed about six working days in the same place. 

We’ve taken on two new business analysts since the start of 2021, both in the early part of their careers. The whole process took place remotely, so neither Tom nor I have met our new employees in person. 

We’ve had to take care to ensure they feel part of the team, that they have what they need, and can access help or just ask questions when they need to. We sent them a package ready for their first day which not only included the technology they would need, but also contained a TVC hoodie and TVC woolly hat! We might not be working in the office together, but we wanted to do what we could to ensure they felt part of our team and small things like that matter. In a strange way, this remoteness has forced us to challenge the whole idea of onboarding new talent. 

Is there a way back to office working?

Our market intelligence suggests we’re past the inflection point. Talking to our clients, we don’t hear about people wanting all of their staff to flock back to their old desks five days a week as soon as that’s possible. 

The pandemic has been the catalyst that many businesses needed to take flexible working more seriously. Making virtual working the only way to get things done has proved that people can work productively from home. This is not a “new normal”. This is just life. And with the lines between home and work blurred further than ever before, it’s imperative that organisations find a way to make virtual working a success. 

That might mean changes to your people strategy. It will definitely need a culture of trust and empowerment. And a focus on outputs, not minutes sat at a desk is also critical. Let’s hope that the Cult of Presenteeism has finally bitten the dust. 

In governance and leadership terms this method of working relies on strong relationships. Boards that had these already have been best able to adapt to not being in a room together. Conversely, those who didn’t have good relationships, whether that’s because they were new to working together or for other reasons, have found it much harder to be as effective.  

We believe that virtual working can be harnessed to create a better experience for everyone. We need to unlock ourselves from the physicality of office work and redefine a century of norms. 

Just as the trade unions forced a rethink of the six-day working week in the 19th century, leading to the creation of the weekend as we now know it, the pandemic has forced another seismic shift in the way we work. 

Whatever happens throughout the rest of 2021 we will continue to shun remote working, instead aiming for connected working, using technology to accentuate the work experience. Like everyone, we can’t wait to get the whole team together in the office so we can finally meet face to face and spend quality time together, but this physicality no longer defines us as a business or our culture.

Until then, we will continue to work on staying connected by other means. And at the same time, delivering a better work-life balance for us all. 

So is remote working dead? You bet it is. Welcome to just working.

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